Illawarra representative bowlers have come together to celebrate the historic double NSW Inter-Zone triumph earlier this year at Grandviews Bowling Club.
One hundred and four days after the Zone 16 Open side followed up the victory by their Seniors teammates against the other 15 zones in NSW, both teams gathered atFigtree Sports last Saturday.
It was only the third time a Zone had clinched the Open and Seniors NSW Inter-Zone title in the same year, with Illawarra also achieving the feat in 2010 along with Zone 12 doing the double in 2016.
Both Zone 16 teams at the 2020 championships lost their opening sectional game but stormed back to effectively win five straight knockout matches and clinch the biggest prize in NSW rep bowls.
The Open side lost two rinks to one and by 17 shots first-up against Sydney Central and South but turned the tables against the undefeated Zone 13 outfit in the final,with a brilliant 70-53 win.
The Illawarra Seniors suffered a 66-62 loss to Zone 13 in their section opener and faced elimination when trailing Newcastle in Rd 2, but rallied to win 68-67.
From there the Zone 16 Seniors were unstoppable; claiming second spot in their section and then edging past North Coast (Zone 14) 56-54 in a tense quarter-final.
Zone 16 then beat Sydney Northern 58-47 in the semis and neighbours South Eastern NSW 63-47 in the final.
It was Illawarra's third victory in the most prestigious state event for Over 60's bowlers and first trophy since their back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
Neill McCall was representing Illawarra at his first Inter-Zone Championship and was delighted to be part of the Seniors triumph.
''I was happy just to be a part of it and went in with no expectations at all,'' McCall said. ''I wanted to play my role and hopefully make a contribution. So, to come away as the winners was something pretty special.''
Teammate Robbie Warren has had an incredible 12 months which included representing the Senior Jackaroos against New Zealand in the Trans-Tasman Series last November.
Warren said winning the Seniors Inter-Zone was the pinnacle in state rep bowls.
''It's the best of the best; the state championship in rep bowls,'' he said.
''The path both the Opens and over 60s teams took this year was very similar.
"We both lost our first game, dusted that off and got back in contention. Once we got on a roll we showed just how talented a Zone we are.''
Michael Stead skipped a rink for the Open side and noted that given only three times in history has a Zone won the Open/Seniors double it puts this group of Illawarra bowlers in elite company.
In hindsight, the six-day championships were fortunate to even proceed as by early March the seriousness of the coronavirus was felt.
Indeed, the Inter-Zone titles were virtually the last events played before bowls was called off and clubs shut due to the pandemic.
Illawarra team manager Terry Seton said the celebration day was reward for the hard work of everyone associated with the two teams, who are the kings of state bowls.
Knock-out pennants launch
Zone 16 clubs are confirmed to play in the Illawarra Knock-out Pennants competition which is replacing the Zone Pennants that were cancelled due to coronavirus. The Knockout Pennants will start on August 29 and 30 and feature all seven grades, with eight clubs nominating for Grade 1.
Woonona, Oak Flats and Shoalhaven Heads have told Zone 16 officials they are not able to be involved in the event which gives bowlers a chance to play pennants under a knockout format.
Given most men's clubs are trying to complete their club championships in the next few weeks - plus Zone 16 still has its championships to finish and then Zone Champion of Champions events need to be played - the Knock-out Pennants will run for a maximum of one month.
Meanwhile, Zone 16 Championships resume with the President's Reserve Triples final, plus Open Triples final and Open Pairs semi-finals and final on August 1 and August 2 at Windang and Warilla bowling clubs.
Jackaroos star Corey Wedlock and his Warilla clubmate and Irish international Gary Kelly are in the Open Triples final, plus are partners in an Open Pairs semi-final.
Wedlock has already won one Zone championship this year, as part of team which beat Gorillas' clubmates by a shot in the Open Fours.
Clubs to hit the reset button
It might be Dry July for some, but for the Illawarra bowls community the new month is a cause for a toast with competitive bowls returning within clubs.
The easing of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions means from July 1 men's and women's bowling clubs can get complete club championships.
For men's clubs, that means a host of championships though July, chasing qualification for Zone Champion of Champion events.
The Illawarra District Women's Bowling Association is awaiting news over plans to play its Pennants competition with the State Finals now pushed back until December.
Meanwhile, Zone 16's Open rep team will soon return to the green in a round-robin series against Zones 2, 4 and 11 at Soldiers Point BC on August 15-16.
It will be the first time the Zone 16 team will be in action since clinching the NSW Open Inter-Zone title in early March, with plenty of competition for spots ahead of next year's NSW Inter-Zone in Tamworth.